Police deployed in Algiers for banned pro-democracy rally
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Thousands of police flooded the Algerian capital of Algiers Saturday as opposition groups, defying an official ban on rallies, have vowed to press ahead with a pro-democracy march.
The Algerian capital of Algiers braced for a pro-democracy protest march Saturday with a massive police presence posted in central Algiers, where opposition supporters, defying an official ban, have vowed to gather.
Reporting from Algiers, FRANCE 24’s Tahar Hani said a heavy police presence has encircled the city, blocking access to May 1 Square, where protesters have pledged to congregate Saturday.
“Hassiba Ben Bouali Street, the main road leading to May 1 Square, is virtually under siege by policemen equipped with riot shields and batons,” said Hani. “Access to Algiers has been blocked with a heavy police presence on the roads linking the city with the rest of Algeria. Train services between central Algiers and the eastern and western suburbs have been cancelled.”
Police presence turns Algiers into a ‘city of blue’
The Algerian capital famed for its luminous white walls had turned into a city of blue, said Hani, referring to the massive police presence. Opposition groups say 35,000 police officials have been deployed, including reinforcements that have arrived from other parts of the country.
Saturday’s march has been organized by an umbrella group of human rights activists, trade unionists, lawyers and political parties, including the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) party.
Four senior RCD officials were arrested Saturday morning along with about 60 other members, according to RCD spokesman Mohsen Belabas.
“The RCD headquarters on the main Didouche Mourad Street has been surrounded by police,” reports FRANCE 24’s Hani from Algiers.
Access to May 1 Square has not been totally blocked, said Hani, although police cars and mini-vans - with their sirens blaring - have stopped vehicles from approaching the square. But small groups are being allowed to enter the square, according to Hani.
The impressive police presence has succeeded in intimidating many residents. Yacine, a 25-year-old Algiers resident, told FRANCE 24 that he woke up early to get his supplies of bread and milk in case things go wrong during the day.
The pro-democracy march comes a day after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down following 18 days of unrest as thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities demanding the end of a 30-year regime.
Seeking a 'rupture' and 'genuine democracy'
In an interview with FRANCE 24 earlier this week, Fodil Boumala, a writer and member of the CNCD (National Coordination for Change and Democracy) the umbrella group organising Saturday’s demonstration, said the purpose of the march was to achieve “a rupture, the departure of the current government and the establishment of genuine democracy”.
Demonstrations have been banned in Algeria because of a state of emergency that has been in place since 1992 when the military cancelled free elections, sparking Algeria’s descent into a brutal civil war.
Last week, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been in power since 1999, announced that he would lift the state of emergency “in the very near future”, following a spate of copycat suicide attempts mimicking that of the 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation in protest at unemployment sparked the Tunisian uprising that led to the overthrow of the president. Bouteflika has also promised to allow more democratic freedoms and generate more jobs.
But organisers of Saturday’s march have dismissed the president’s promises, demanding an actual end to the state of emergency and calling for Bouteflika himself to step down.